Effective state planning in China combined with political dysfunction and fanatical anti-government ideology in the U.S., along with overinvestment in the military and anti-intellectualism, accounts in part for wide discrepancy
Rather than playing fair, U.S. government resorts to dirty tactics and sabotage to try to reclaim strategic advantage
In 2015, the Chinese government announced the creation of the Digital Silk Road (DSR)—an attempt to enhance digital connectivity as an adjunct of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global infrastructure development plan to enhance Eurasian and African connectivity through a network of roads, high speed rails and ports.
So far the DSR has been extended to at least 16 countries, and has resulted in investment in telecommunication networks, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, e-commerce, mobile payment systems and other high-tech areas.
In 2021, China completed the launch of its global satellite system, BeiDou, which, in some regions, is more accurate than the United States’s Global Positioning System (GPS).
As A.B. Abrams details in his book, China and America’s Tech War From AI to 5G: The Struggle to Shape the Future of World Order (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2022), Washington is most alarmed by the success of Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications giant, in spreading advanced 5G networks that it has pioneered.
5G is the fifth-generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks, which cellular phone companies began deploying worldwide in 2019, and is the planned successor to the 4G networks which provide connectivity to most current cell phones.
Thomas Donahue, a CIA agent for 32 years and former senior director for cyberwarfare operations on the U.S. National Security Council staff, noted that, if Huawei 5G networks were installed widely, it could potentially hinder U.S. capability for waging war around the world.
This may help to explain the hysterical reaction of the U.S. elite to Huawei and 5G.
At the Munich Security Conference in February 2020, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that Huawei’s effort to spread 5G was “the most insidious form of aggression; to have that line of communication 5G, dominated by an autocratic government that does not share our values [is unacceptable].”
FBI Director Christopher Wray accused Huawei of “pervasive criminal behavior” designed to “undermine our country’s place in the world,” while Marco Rubio (R-FL) claimed that to allow Huawei to compete fairly for contracts “risked enabling “Beijing’s digital authoritarianism.”
Referencing Huawei’s “technological imperialism,” Rubio said that Chinese domestic policies, including Western allegations of human rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang province, and China’s alleged mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis were viable pretexts to effectively ban a non-state telecommunications firm from operating.
Rubio was among those to support Donald Trump’s executive order banning U.S. companies from using equipment or services from companies that were under the control of adversary governments (which Huawei was accused of). Rubio also sponsored legislation backed by the CIA promoting development of an alternative to Huawei, which so far has been unsuccessful.
“The Most Consequential Fight Since the Space Race”
According to Time magazine, the competition for 5G represents “the most consequential fight for global technological supremacy since the space race in the Cold War.”
This is a fight that the U.S. is losing—even though it has played dirty.
The Obama, Trump and Biden administrations have worked to try to deny Huawei access to the global supply chain still under Western control—namely semiconductor chips reliant on American software for their fabrication—and spied on Huawei using the National Security Agency (NSA).
The U.S. Department of Justice also issued bogus fraud charges against Huawei CEO Meng Wanzhou, claiming she violated U.S. trade sanctions with Iran, while trying to extradite her after she was placed under house arrest in Canada.
This was part of a large-scale demonization campaign directed against Huawei attempting to link it to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Chinese intelligence.
Time magazine claimed in 2019 that Huawei was“the most controversial company in the world” on the basis of its alleged role as a tool for intelligence gathering, which has never been proven.
One reason for the company’s success is that it is run as a cooperative, meaning that it is a private company owned by its 82,471 employees who have a stake in its success.
This contrasts with U.S.-based corporations where the CEO and shareholders make all the decisions and take all the profits.
In 2021, CIA Director William Burns described the contest for dominance of high-end technologies as the “main area for competition and rivalry with China.”
This competition is becoming increasingly one-sided, as China has taken the lead not only in developing 5G networks but also in Artificial Intelligence (AI or machine learning), clean energy and nuclear technology development, along with production of semiconductor chips.
China’s success has resulted from a number of key advantages it now has over the U.S.
The first is its system of state planning and close collaboration between private technology companies, universities, and the government.
This contrasts with the U.S., where a fanatical anti-government ideology has resulted in defunding of scientific research and development (R&D); in 2017, the Chinese government spent $64.4 billion on R&D compared to $47.1 billion by the U.S.
The second key advantage for China is a rising middle class compared to the U.S. where the number of lower income households has overtaken the middle class in size.
China also now has a more affordable system of higher education. The average yearly tuition at Chinese universities is under $1,600 whereas in the U.S. it is $26,820.
As a sign of the times, China’s Tsinghua University dethroned the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as the top engineering university in the world in 2015, according to U.S. News & World Report rankings.
According to A.B. Abrams “China’s better educated population and larger, healthier and more affluent middle class facilitates increasing levels of innovation.”
In the U.S. there is a culture of anti-intellectualism that has led to the majority of graduate students in the country being foreign born.
Whereas teachers are treated poorly in the U.S., in Southeast Asia they are esteemed and viewed as among the most important members of their community. Chinese students aspire to be astronauts, whereas more and more Americans want to become YouTubers.
School performance among children generally gives a great edge to the Chinese and China has greatly eclipsed the U.S. in its manufacturing capability with a more skilled labor force.
Xenophobia and the Reverse Brain Drain
Whereas top Chinese scientific talent was attracted to the U.S. in the past, a reverse brain drain is now occurring because of the rising climate of xenophobia and the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.
More stringent immigration laws and persecution of Chinese scientists who have been accused of espionage has contributed further to the brain drain. In an increasingly fearful atmosphere, top Chinese scientists are returning to China and bringing their patents and innovations with them.
A prime example is that of Dr. Xin Zhao, an award-winning physicist and tech entrepreneur from the College of William & Mary, who was hounded by federal agents for two years, had his computers seized, and was charged with espionage.
Though the case against him was ultimately dismissed, Xin was forced to spend more than $100,000 in legal fees and his reputation was tarnished. He ultimately decided to go back to China like a number of other top scientists who became victims under the neo-McCarthyite China Initiative.
U.S. Trade War Backfires
China ironically has grown stronger as a result of the U.S. trade war directed against it.
In the face of sanctions, restrictions on Chinese exports and potential Western attacks, the Chinese government supported the drive by local technology companies to move up value chains and reduce or eliminate reliance on high-tech imports from the U.S. and from parties potentially susceptible to its pressure, such as firms in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
The ultimate losers were companies in these countries that suffered losses of revenue. China became more of a leader in advanced technologies, like semiconductors, in which it has invested.
Leading the Way in Clean Energy
Abrams’s book provides profiles of some of the mesmerizing scientific innovations coming out of China today, things like the world’s first thorium-fueled molten salt reactor at Wuwei on the edge of the Gobi Desert. This is a nuclear power plant built on unused desert land that produces much less radioactive waste than is the norm.
China currently houses 75% of the world’s lithium-ion battery mega-factories that will power a new generation of more efficient electric cars and buses.
In 2018, China had 421,000 electric buses compared to just 300 in the U.S.
Striving for carbon neutrality in 2060, China has also paved 40,000 kilometers of high-speed rail lines in 2021 and will reach 75,000 kilometers by 2035.
The U.S., by contrast, has fewer than 750 kilometers of high-speed rail lines, two percent of that of China’s.
Quantum Computing—Leaving the U.S. “Scrambling to Catch Up”
As recently as the early 2000s, quantum computing was considered a field of undisputed U.S. supremacy. However, by 2012, China had gained first place in patents, and by 2018 was filing more than three times as many as the U.S.—and 52% of all those filed in the world.
China also took the lead in development of supercomputers, with 45.6% of all systems, compared to 23.4% in the U.S.
In January 2021, state-run Chinese telecommunications became the first to offer SIM cards to make quantum-encrypted phone calls.
In 2020, China was the first to demonstrate quantum-secured space communications with its Micius satellite that established an ultra-secure link between two ground stations separated by more than 1000 kilometers.
Scientific American called this a “Sputnik moment” whose achievement represented China’s “lead in an emerging contest among great powers at the frontiers of physics, leaving the U.S. scrambling to catch up.”
China’s Growing Military Strength
The Biden administration’s increasing provocation of China through deployment of U.S. naval vessels and spy ships in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait is courting disaster given China’s growing military strength.
The National Interest reported that China’s quantum radars—developed through quantum computing—”could make detecting U.S. submarines a breeze—with such sensors potentially being integrated onto satellites which could bring about the end of underwater stealth.”
Quantum radars could make stealth—the ability of aircraft to evade radar—obsolete soon and provide China an advantage in tracking targets such as strategic ballistic missiles. They could also result in air defenses that are harder to suppress and are immune to anti-radiation missiles.
With regard to AI, Abrams emphasizes that even though the military application of AI has received disproportionate funding and attention in the U.S., China has matched the U.S. in the development of AI-piloted fighters and drones armed with AI software and smart weapons.
U.S. Plays Dirty
Reinvoking traditional “yellow peril” stereotypes, Donald Trump and other U.S. politicians repeatedly accuse China of stealing U.S. technologies or intellectual property and cyber-hacking among other offenses.
However, in 2013, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that China’s government and population were extensively targeted for highly intrusive surveillance by U.S. intelligence.
This included hacking into Chinese mobile phone companies to access millions of private text messages, attacking the network backbones of the country’s top-ranked Tsinghua University and hacking the headquarters of Pacnet, which owned one of East Asia’s most extensive fiber-optic submarine cable networks, among multiple other serious offenses.
Documents published by WikiLeaks in 2017, which were reportedly leaked by CIA coder Joshua A. Schulte, showed that Chinese aviation, energy, internet and government sectors had been targeted and hacked by U.S. government agencies—notably the CIA—for more than a decade.
An investigation by a Beijing cyber-security firm found that malware attacks were carried out by CIA-exclusive cyber-weapons such as Fluxwire and Grasshopper frameworks.
The CIA also used its venture capital fund In-Q-Tel to finance tech startups that could compete with the Chinese and advance anti-Chinese propaganda as part of a burgeoning information war.
A War Against a Country You Are Dependent On?
The irony of the burgeoning tech war is that, because of China’s immense advantage, the U.S. has become dependent on Chinese high technology and electronics, including notably in the defense sector.
So if the U.S. actually went to war with China, it would be easily crippled by China cutting off its supply chain. This raises the question as to why the Biden administration is going out of its way to provoke China when the U.S. is most likely the one which will get burned if a hot war breaks out.
Abrams hold Masters degrees from the University of London relating to East Asian politics and international security. Fluent in Korean and Mandarin, he has deep experience in the Far East and published previous books on North Korea and the Syrian conflict, which have been reviewed by CAM.
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of four books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019) and The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018).
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